“CrossFit saved my life.”

Written by Kirk MacLeod

I love CrossFit.
CrossFit saved my life.

This is not an “I was out of shape/unhealthy/on the road to nowhere” story.
CrossFit literally saved my life.

In June 2010, I left NYC and CrossFit NYC (my first CrossFit gym) and moved to Honduras as the United Nations Country Security Advisor.

Kirk, post-WOD at CrossFit Bogota, a.k.a. working out at 8600 ft.!

Kirk, post-WOD at CrossFit Bogota, a.k.a. working out at 8600 ft.!

In August 2010, just days after coming home on leave from Honduras, I suffered a ruptured colon. I almost died.

The EMTs weren’t sure I was going to make it to the hospital. The doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room weren’t sure I was going to make it to surgery. After surgery, they kept me in a step-down room for five days. Normally you are there a half-day. They thought I still might die… My surgeon told me that it was my intense level of health and fitness that saved me.

As far as I am concerned it was CrossFit that saved me.

It turned out the rupture was caused by colon cancer. They thought they had it all after an emergency resection. They discovered they were wrong in December 2010 when I went in for a reversal on my colostomy. The cancer had spread and developed throughout my abdomen. I did 3 months of chemotherapy in Spring 2011 followed by major nine-hour surgery/internal chemo called the Sugarbaker Procedure in June 2011 followed shortly after by three more months of chemo and then another reversal surgery.

In that Sugarbaker, they stripped the internal lining from the abdominal walls and off most of my internal organs, they removed the whole of my large intestine, part of the small intestine, my gall bladder and the nerves and blood supply to my left testicle (yeah, I thought I needed some of those things as well…). Amazingly, I have been fully functional since.

I thought that was enough.

In January 2012, after another surgery to reverse the ileostomy that resulted from the Sugarbaker – and according to all the tests available – I was declared cancer free, or more aptly: tumor free. I returned to work in February 2012 as the UN Country Security Advisor for the Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. My first blood test came back with high colon cancer marker levels. A CT scan detected a tumor. A PET scan revealed activity in the tumor shown by the CT, another tumor in the abdomen and at least one “nodule of concern” in the lungs. In September 2012 I began three more months of chemo. February 2013 I had another bowel resection removing the two tumors as well as another piece of small intestine (no ostomy this time – small miracles). This was followed in March with a resection of part of the upper left lobe of the lung.

So, once again, as of just a couple weeks ago they have – based upon available tests – declared me cancer free (or perhaps, free of tumors)… at least for now. I remain at high risk for recurrence and have my first CT scan in August…

That brings me to today.

Just living life after cancer is not enough. I have had a very vocal “fuck cancer” attitude through all of this and continue to do so. I don’t want to just “be alive”… I want to live! I want to be vibrant and active. I want to strive for and accomplish impossible things!

CrossFit believes you should train for the unknown and the unknowable. You can’t get any more unknown and unknowable than this. The after of cancer treatment – the after of 8 surgeries and 9 months of chemotherapy – is harder than the treatment. How do you build a life? What do you do?

Take back your life by force, that’s what! Make a difference. So, I am going to do something big, really big. Why? Because Fuck cancer! That’s why.

On 4 August, 2013 I will take part in The Big Swim. I will swim from the province of New Brunswick to the province of Prince Edward Island. An open-ocean swim of at least 14km (about nine miles) to raise money for Brigadoon, a camp for chronically ill children.

How am I going to do this? Go back to what I love, of course! After finally being cleared to train again at the end of May, I started training to swim following a CrossFit Endurance protocol and I joined a local CrossFit Gym (CrossFit Kinetics in Halifax, NS). I walked into the Box and I felt at home. I picked up a bar and felt like was supposed to be there, doing that. I was taking a step back to remembering who I was…who I am.

I am so fortunate to have made so many friends in CrossFit. That, more than anything, is helping me do this crazy thing. Brian Harkins of NYC Endurance, who I used to train with, put me in touch with Max Wunderle, my brilliant CFE swim coach. Court Wing is talking to me almost every day, helping with my programming and providing guidance for my recovery, health and fitness.

From left: Allison, Scott, Tim, Brian, Kirk, and Matt represent CFNYC at the Run for Haiti.

From left: Allison, Scott, Tim, Brian, Kirk, and Matt represent CFNYC at the Run for Haiti.

When I work out now, I hear all my friends from the 7AM Morning Posse back in the day with Jacinto: Tim, Anthony, Brian, Marco, Scott, Stephanie, Matt, Allison… This is what keeps me going. Every day I set foot in the Box, or slip into the pool, I am reminded of my CrossFit community that saved my life and that is now helping me rebuild it.

How can you help? Support me in this swim by donating to Brigadoon. It is a brilliant charity that supports so many children dealing with chronic illness. This swim is a test of will for me and cancer pushed me to my limits. I cannot imagine dealing with it – or any chronic illness – as a child. Brigadoon helps those kids. Please help me help them.

Here is the link to donate.

For your entertainment, here is a comic a friend of mine just drew about me and the swim.


  • Allison Bojarski

    I’m so lucky to have Kirk as a friend. It means a lot to me to be able to get his story out via the CFNYC blog because he was such a big part of the CFNYC community back when he lived here in NYC. Even if you don’t know him personally, I hope you’ll take the time to read his story and then donate. A little or a lot doesn’t matter, just give what you can. 🙂

    • Kirk MacLeod

      Allison, you are a star. Thanks so much for posting this – and thanks to everyone who might donate – and to those who already have.
      This is a win-win for me: put myself back together with CrossFit working towards a great challenge, while raising money for a brilliant charity.
      I really do love CrossFit.

  • Marco Greenberg

    KIRK: U R AMAZING. A true inspiration to us all and a wonderful writer to boot. We will spread the word about your Benefit to beat cancer. Your friends at Crossfit in NYC are in awe of you! This is a must read.

    • Kirk MacLeod

      Love you, Marco.

  • reisbaron

    Kirk: I’ve heard about your struggles with cancer around the box over the last couple of years. I’m truly inspired by your story and your willingness to challenge yourself at such a high level. I look forward to hearing how the swim goes, and will absolutely contribute to your cause.

    • Kirk MacLeod

      Reis, the Morning Posse crew says great things about you. Hope we get to train together soon!

  • ST

    Donation made. Best of luck, Kirk!

    • Kirk MacLeod


  • Jessica Gaudon

    Kirk, I’m 22 and have just finished Chemo for Ewing’s Sarcoma. My friend Sarah has been helping me prepare to join Cross-fit. I’ve always been relatively healthy, but you’re absolutely right in that you have to be more than just pretty healthy. It’s all or nothing, literally. They can’t see my tumour anymore and I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything to make sure they never do. I live in Halifax too! Maybe I will see you there!


    Jessica Gaudon

    • Kirk MacLeod

      That is brilliant. I hope we meet at Crossfit Kinetics.
      Please feel free to email me anytime if I can help:

  • Scott

    Kirk is a great friend and an amazing inspiration! His attitude throughout these past few years has been incredible. Way to go Kirk and can’t wait to hear about the swim!

    • Kirk MacLeod

      Thanks, Scott!

  • Vince Sheppard

    Kirk is an old friend of mine from the days I spent wasting time at Dalhousie university here in Halifax, always the guy you wanted on your side when things got “squigily” because he’s THAT guy. Well it turns out that some many years later, he’s the guy I need in my corner again. Diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer which has spread to my liver, he reached out and has been advising and talking with me about all the terrible and good things and helping keep my brain from stewing in the what ifs. So even though I’m more of a tub of butter that a single crossfit workout would probably end me, crossfit is helping to save me vicariously through Kirk, so big thanks!!

    • Kirk MacLeod

      Thanks Vince! You have always been a tough guy. Toughness counts big time in this fight…and I am going to help in any way I can.

  • Justin Katz

    Hi Kirk
    It been awhile.
    I been following your progress, and I am proud how strong you are throughout all this.
    Keep up the good fight!
    Donation made

  • Michelle R

    Tremenda persona… What a fighter you are. So proud of you. Cheers!

  • lawyer aka photogrrl

    You’re courageous as hell. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • CPANinjaDoug

    A couple of times you mentioned “Fuck cancer.” I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there is actually a non-profit by that name. Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen on “The Arrow”) has been a spokesperson for Fuck Cancer.
    Your story is a great inspiration. Nearly everyone who’s a blood relative of mine has died of a heart-related issue. CrossFit I believe is helping me avoid, or at least postpone, that same fate.

  • Stephanie

    kirk!!!!! so amazing, and so excited that you are tumor-free!!!

    what a shi$%y real-life-AMRAP, kirk. i couldn’t be more excited that you crushed it! and you’re not just lying on the floor in a puddle of your own sweat in sheer exhaustion at the fact that you just FUC%ED CANCER, but you’re, like, getting up to fundraise and swim 9 miles?

    you inspire me.

    and so glad to finally be able to do something other than clap along on the sidelines and say *you got this*…delighted to click on the *donate now* button! i’m going to go donate again for the fact that i literally complained and whined through my entire 20 minute AMRAP this morning. this reminds me that we are training for LIFE.

  • Wilfredo Flores

    Kirk..I’m not sure you’ll receive this, but I have to thank you for this piece. I’m a cancer survivor as well; just my 5 yr mark of being cancer free. I’m not going to lie and say that it was not a devastating discovery. It was. but it treatment and recovery were not as extensive as yours. You’re a brave man; and an inspiration. and yeah! FUCK CANCER!

    Crossfit saved my life as well..brought be out of the deepest depression I’ve ever encountered. What I was trying to do for nearly 5 yrs of therapy and medication. Crossfit did in a month. Brought LIFE back into my life!

    I hear this theme so much, it’s no wonder that Crossfit has grown the way it has. Crossfit = LIFE!

    Thanks again